Comparison shopping for car insurance pays off, we financial writers assure our
readers, urging them to make the effort. When I tried it myself, I saved money,
but a root canal would have been more fun.
I ran into trouble right away, trying to assemble five years' worth of
information about my three-car, three-driver family. Although I thought we had
a clean claims record, a $301 comprehensive claim for a cracked windshield had
faded from our memory. CLUE remembered. In fact, CLUE remembered an accident
none of us had.
CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which is run by
ChoicePoint Inc. in Atlanta. It maintains a claims database that insurance
companies use to decide who gets auto and homeowners insurance and how much
Homeowners reports have been controversial because they can make it
difficult to obtain insurance even if the claims were filed by a home's
previous owner. Even more controversial, some insurance companies report you
made a claim when you only made a phone call to discuss the possibility.
ChoicePoint says it asks insurance companies not to do that.
When it comes to auto reports, claims related to your vehicle or to your
address show up on your CLUE report even if they have nothing to do with you.
ChoicePoint says it encourages insurance companies to verify the information.
Our auto report showed not only our forgotten $301 windshield claim, but also a
mystery accident claim for $2,529, both from 2001. I learned about them when an
agent from whom I had requested a quote called and chided me for
misrepresenting our claims record. Assurances that we hadn't had an accident
weren't enough; the agent was no longer interested in providing a quote.
That prompted me to order my own copy of our CLUE report ($9, but free if
you've been turned down for coverage or forced to pay a higher rate). When it
came, I discovered the mystery claim belonged to our adult son. Although he
lived elsewhere, owned the car in his name and was insured through a different
company than we were, his claim was on our record. Why? ChoicePoint said it was
because he used our post office box as his mailing address when he took out his
Although ChoicePoint has a procedure for disputing inaccurate
information, the company said his claim could not be removed because it really
was our post office box. ChoicePoint allowed me to include in our record a
statement explaining the circumstances.
When I used an Internet insurance-shopping site to request my next quote, I
reported only the windshield claim. A week later, I got an e-mail from the
insurance company I selected, asking about the "additional driver in your
household," saying he would have to be included on our policy. I again
explained the circumstances and haven't heard anything back. I'm hoping my
premium rate won't be higher when it comes time to renew.
If you plan to insurance shop, consider ordering your CLUE report ahead of time
so you won't be surprised as I was and will have a chance to correct errors. As
I found out, you only need to order one report for your whole household. You
can order over the Internet (www.choicepoint.com or www.consumerdisclosure.com
if you were denied insurance or by calling 1-866-527-2600. You might want to
check your credit report too if you haven't recently, since many insurance
companies also rely on it in setting rates